Pangea’s Quiver of Quizzes for the Social Media and ‘Brand Hacking’ Era

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a personality test used to help market the movie Hotel for Dogs.

“One of the things that Boston companies do pretty well, sometimes to their detriment and sometimes to their success, is focus on revenues,” Lieberman says. “There are fewer Boston companies that are just building something cool to see what happens. That’s unfortunate when things like Twitter get developed out west, but it’s fortunate when companies like LogMeIn actually make money.”

Straddling that line between cool and pragmatic seems to be working so far: Pangea will turn three years old this fall, has about 30 employees, had 2008 revenues in the “eight figures,” according to Lieberman, and is profitable. The company’s combined sites bring in about 12 million unique visitors per month. Pangea is funded by angel investors, including Lieberman himself. Steven Kane, the co-founder and former CEO of both Gamesville (sold to Waltham, MA-based Lycos in 1999 for $232 million) and GameLogic (a Waltham developer of online loyalty programs for casinos), is also an investor.

Pangea’s growth has been mainly organic to date, though it acquired a company called LaughNetwork last fall that brought an extra million visitors per month. “We’ll be looking for more acquisitions down the road,” Lieberman says.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, I told Lieberman that I didn’t quite understand why Web users are so willing to spend their time interacting with branded adverquizzes—which, after all, are still advertising.

“There’s probably a slight disconnect between the way you think about advertising and the way people use our quizzes,” Lieberman answered. For one thing, he says, the branded quizzes offer people a convenient way to express themselves, through products and company names that are universally recognized. “For example, you’re drinking out of a Starbucks mug. That immediately tells me about your coffee tastes. It’s something I can understand without knowing you very well.” (He certainly caught me there.)

But there’s also a viral mashup aspect to many of the adverquizzes, Lieberman says: most of the adverquizzes allow users to create their own offshoots by rewriting the questions in the original quiz, then sharing the new quiz with people in their social network. “People love to take brands and make them their own,” he says. “They’re hacking them, if you will. And hacking and customization around the particular brand that you want to talk about is much more common than you may think.”

Pangea is the best around at helping advertisers craft these customization opportunities, Lieberman believes. “Any little company can create a quiz, and people do all the time,” he says. “But really building engagement and understanding how virality works and bringing the audience to advertisers—that’s really hard to do well.”

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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